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Wednesday, 2 May 1973
Page: 1585


Mr CONNOR (Cunningham) (Minister for Minerals and Energy) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1967-68 to take account of the new seabed boundaries established under 3 agreements signed with Indonesia in 1971, 1972 and 1973 and thus permit formal ratification of the 3 agreements by the Australian Government. On 22nd February 1973 on the occasion of the visit of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to Indonesia, the Prime Minister and President Suharto issued a joint communique which referred to Australia's intention to ratify at an early date the 1971 and 1972 Seabed Boundary Agreements. It was stated also that both governments would also ratify the 1973 Agreement as soon as practicable. The Bill provides new descriptions of the areas adjacent to Queensland, the Northern Territory, the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, the Territory of Papua and the Territory of New Guinea. These descriptions amend those in the Second Schedule to the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1967-68 and thus formalise the new seabed boundaries established under the 3 agreements.

The 1971 Agreement, which was signed on 18th May 1971, delimits the seabed between Australia and Indonesia in the Arafura Sea and between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia off the southern and northern coasts of Papua New Guinea. The boundaries relating to Papua New Guinea were approved in 1971 by the Administrator's Executive Council. The 1972 Agreement, which was signed on 9th October 1972, is supplementary to the 1971 Agreement and delimits the seabed between Australia and Indonesia in the Arafura and Timor Seas west of the boundary agreed to in 1971. The 1973 Agreement, which was signed on 12th February 1973 by the Chief Minister of Papua New Guinea, Mr Somare, on behalf of the Australian Government, deals with the land boundary of Papua New Guinea, and with the seabed boundary immediately south of Papua New Guinea. The 1973 Agreement provides in addition that the seabed boundary lines shall also serve, so far as necessary, as the lateral boundaries of the territorial seas and exclusive fishing zones of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

The 1973 Agreement has been approved by the Administrator's Executive Council of Papua New Guinea. In addition the Agreement expressly envisages that the approval of the Agreement by the Papua New Guinea House of Assembly is to be obtained before Australian ratification of the Agreement takes place. It is expected that the Agreement will be considered during the next session of the House of Assembly commencing on 21st May 1973. Each of the agreements is subject to ratification in accordance with the constitutional requirements of each country and is to enter into force on the day on which the instruments of ratification are exchanged. The Indonesian Government has in fact already taken the constitutional steps necessary for their ratification of both the 1971 and 1972 Seabed Agreements.

The seabed boundaries set out in the 3 Agreements differ in some respects from the limits of Australian and Papua New Guinea adjacent areas' described in the Schedules to the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act. Some parts of the 'adjacent areas' of the Northern Territory and of the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands project beyond the boundary agreed in 1972. As a result 6 exploration permits in the Ashmore and Cartier Islands adjacent area' and one exploration permit in the Northern Territory 'adjacent area' are reduced in area. The present adjacent area of Queensland lies inside the boundary agreed in 1971, and a small addition to the adjacent area has resulted. In the case of Papua New Guinea, there is a net gain to Papua New Guinea in the seabed area to the south, while in the north some re-adjustment in favour of Indonesia is required. Passage of this amending legislation will allow the Government to ratify the 1971 and 1972 Agreements with Indonesia and ratification of the Third Agreement will follow, subject to the approval of that Agreement by the Papua New Guinea House of Assembly.

The signing of the Third Agreement with Indonesia in February this year concluded negotiation of the seabed boundaries between Australia and Indonesia. We now have a boundary which extends from an area north of Papua New Guinea through the Arafura and Timor Seas to a point north-west of Australia, incomplete only in the area opposite Portuguese Timor. The Government has been ip. contact with the Portuguese Government in relation to the seabed boundary in this area and we expect that discussions will commence later this year. I suggest to honourable members that the passage of this amending legislation will have 2 very important implications for Australia. Firstly, it will enable the Government to ratify the agreements signed with Indonesia and thereby help to maintain the friendly relations which exist between our 2 countries. Secondly early ratification of the Agreements will allow exploration in areas adjacent to the new boundaries to proceed with certainty as to the extent of Australian jurisdiction. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Sinclair) adjourned.







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